Rome is an overwhelming place. It is loud, crowded, has insane traffic and nothing is labeled properly. Nothing. It is a messy confusion piled on top of mess and confusion.
But I’m getting a head of myself. Let’s pick up where we left off.
The plane ride from Philadelphia was blissfully quiet. The food was gross, as was expected, but I had a window seat which was wonderful. I even managed to sleep a little. Waking up over southern France was beautiful. There were snowcapped mountains everywhere. Then a quick hop over the Ligurian Sea and the island of Corsica, and we were gliding over the coast of Italy where there is some truly beautiful farm country. Finally, we landed in the Da Vinci airport. The airport is very clean and fairly easy to follow in the departure terminal but you have to go on a fairly long walk to find the train that takes you into the city. The train ride itself was fairly uneventful. Unfortunately I did not get a window seat this time but from the little view I did have, it didn’t seem like we were going through the nicest suburbs of the city.
In no time at all we had reached the Termini train station. For all of the nice things I will say about Rome later in this post, there is no forgiving the hellish mess that is Termini. There are no directions, the same ticket kiosks and self-serve stations seem to be everywhere, I had no idea where to even begin looking for a schedule or route map. I purchased a Metro/bus pass from a very rude lady in a tobacco shop that was so over crowded you couldn’t tell where the line began or ended. Then, like the overwhelmed fool I was, I decided it would be a good idea to take a bus instead of the Metro. Never again. The bus depot is basically a huge parking lot where different numbered buses line up behind each other and the stop lists are written in tiny print on very high signs. I had to ask two different people what bus would take me to my stop and how to find the right place to stand to catch said bus. What must have been close to a half hour later I was finally on the right bus heading the right direction.
Getting off the bus only lead to more problems. Since street signs are an obviously optional part of the local infrastructure, I ended up walking in the wrong direction. Now, please remember, at this point I’ve had my huge backpack on my back for far longer than I expected and I, I must admit, am not a very strong person. All of this needless wandering around was tiring me out. I stopped at a store that turned out to be a betting station and asked the man behind the counter for directions. I did have the address of my hostel on a notepad to show him and he was able to figure out where I wanted to go. Communicating that to me turned out to be another challenge, if a more interesting one. He did not know more than a handful of words in English and I know about as much Italian. We quickly decided that French would be the best language for us to speak and he was able to send me to the proper intersection and which direction to turn. Another nice lady at a gelateria pointed out the well camouflaged door to my long awaited hostel. The young man, who seemed to be the only staff person for the whole place, kindly informed me that my room was not ready but that I could leave my bag. He then sent me off to find a very good restaurant, marked map in hand. My back grateful to be relieved of its burden and my anxiety calmed by having a map, I managed to have a decided spring in my step while hunting down lunch.
The restaurant was a lovely, sub-basement space with sweet, if not overly attentive, waiters. Lunch was a steaming bowl of the richest, saltiest pasta carbonara I’ve ever had in my life and I’m pretty sure the leftovers will be tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. But it certainly was delicious.
Back to the hostel for (thank the gods!) a shower and much needed tooth care. A couple hours sitting in the tiny kitchen writing emails, setting up the SIM card for my phone, and discussing the US presidential race with a young man from Brazil revived me enough to head back out into the city. I had met a guy from Colorado while in Philadelphia and we have quickly become travel buddies. I met up with him near Santa Maria Maggiore. While enjoying the sweet life with cups of gelato, we noticed that riot cops, police vans and at least one helicopter had gathered in the square where we were sitting at the base of a obelisk. Soon we realized that a protest march was headed our way. While initially concerned that we were about to be in the middle of something ugly, a few confused conversations with passerby revealed that the march was about the practice of local government to sell off greenspace to developers, therefore limiting open spaces for people to gather and for children to play outside. The protest was well done, complete with smoke bombs, a party van with loudspeakers, performance artists who darted into the onlooking crowd, and a group of men in pink masks who had a kickass drum routine. The turnout was very good too.
After the march passed by, we continued a few blocks past Santa Maria Maggiore to the Piazza della Repubblica and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. On the outside this church did not look like much more than a ruin.
But once we went inside we stood in awe of how beautiful is was. There were many colors of marble on the walls and wonderful stained glass. The atrium just inside the entrance had a circular piece at the very top that was a swirling starburst inside the universe. I was so sad I could not get a good picture. The rest of the church was just as lovely and it had one of the largest pipe organs I have seen in a long time.
There was a service about to begin but we really wanted to hear the organ play, so we stood around awkwardly until the first hymn. Satisfied with the basilica, we went back outside to take pictures of the fountain out front. The sun was going down so the lighting wasn’t the best, but we had fun dodging traffic and trying not to die.
We then spent another hour or so wandering down via Nazionale and via Panisperna before making it back to Santa Maria Maggiore and heading back to our respective hostels.
Overall it was a great introduction to Rome. I learned to leave extra time when dealing with public transportation, that the people are friendly if not obviously so, and that the tiny residential streets are the best places to be. Now it is almost 8:30 in the morning on my second day in Rome and I am off in search of coffee before walking to the Colosseum and old city. Should be a wonderful day!